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Bill Thayer

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Chapters 35‑38

This webpage reproduces part of the
The General (Strategikos)


(Loeb Classical Library edition, 1928)

The text is in the public domain.

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and I believe it to be free of errors.
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This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.


 p499  [link to original Greek text] XXXIX. (1) [On the General's Knowledge of the Courses of the Stars]

1 In night attacks and surprises of towns through treason, the general must know the heavenly courses  p501 of the stars by night, otherwise his plans will often be of no avail. 2 For instance, some traitor has appointed the third or fourth, or whatever hour of the night he considers most favourable, for opening the gates or slaying some of the opposing faction in the town or attacking the hostile garrison within the town; then one of two things has happened; the general has reached the camp of the enemy too early and has been detected before the traitors are ready and has been thwarted in his attempt, or else he has arrived too late and has thus been the cause of the traitors' being detected and put to death and of his own failure to accomplish any of his plans. 3 Accordingly he should form an estimate of the road, deciding at what point he is to set out; then he must determine the distance and the time — how much of each he will have to spend on the journey; — and finally, he must, from his observation of the stars, estimate exactly what part of the night has passed and what part remains, in order that he may arrive neither too early nor too late; then he must get there at precisely the appointed time, so that news of his attack may not reach the enemy until he is actually inside the fortifications.

 p503  [link to original Greek text] (2) [How to capture a City by Day]

4 If setting out by day, he lead his army to capture at an appointed hour towns that are to be betrayed, he should send horsemen ahead to seize every one met on the road, that no native of the country may run ahead and warn of the approach of their enemy but that the army may appear suddenly to the enemy and catch him off his guard. 5 He must fall unexpectedly on an unsuspecting enemy, even if he is not expecting to seize the towns through treachery but to fight openly after a declaration of war, and he must not hesitate but strive in every way to attack fort or camp or town before his advance is known, especially if he knows that his own army is small and inferior to that of the enemy. 6 For unexpected appearances of an enemy, because they are unforeseen, terrify their opponents, even should the latter be stronger; but at length, if those who have been taken by surprise should observe their own forces or get the chance to plan and renew their courage, they gradually and of necessity come to despise their foes; in this way the beginning of a war sometimes seems more terrible than the latter part. 7 On this account, armies have often so terrified their opponents by the unexpectedness of their appearance that they have either quickly subdued them against their will or else have forced them to agree to comply with their own demands.

 p505  [link to original Greek text] XL. [Sieges]

1 A siege demands courage on the part of the soldiers, military science on the part of the general, and equipment of machines of war. The general must take no fewer precautions and be no less observant than the enemy; for the army attacked, when it knows just what its danger is, guards especially against the army attacking. 2 The army that believes itself out of danger does what work is at hand when it pleases, but that which is in danger strives to surprise its enemy by dealing him a blow whenever it has an opportunity. Hence it is necessary for the besieging general to fortify his camp with trenches, palisades, and guards. 3 For whatever the besiegers intend to do can be seen from the walls; but the besieged, with the wall as a shield, often without detection pour through the gates and burn the machines or kill the soldiers or do whatever damage comes to their hands.

[link to original Greek text] XLI. [Ambush laid by the Besieger before the Gates of a Town]

1 The besieged would by no means attempt this if the besieging general should post at both large and  p507 small gates companies of soldiers to prevent sudden sallies, since otherwise the defenders might without warning attack the besiegers. 2 Attacks by night are generally advantageous to the besiegers, since the besieged are unable to see what is happening, on account of the darkness, and everything seems more terrible to them, and they are compelled to regard the attack as more dangerous than it really is. Hence tumult and confusion arise; no one is able to use sober judgement in such circumstances, but many things that are not happening are said to be happening; and the besieged is not able to know from what direction the enemy is attacking, nor in what numbers, nor with what forces, and men run hither and thither, while the shouting and consternation cause disorder and panic.

[link to original Greek text] XLII. (1) [Fear is a false Prophet]

1 Fear is a false prophet and believes that what it fears is actually coming to pass. At night every trifling occurrence seems more terrible to the besieged, for on account of the darkness no man tells what he sees but always what he hears. If one or two of the enemy appear somewhere on the walls, the defenders, believing that the whole army has already mounted the walls, turn and flee, leaving the battlements and gates undefended.

 p509  [link to original Greek text] (2) [The General must set a good Example to his Soldiers]

2 If the general is in haste to finish some enterprise that he has on hand, he should not hesitate to be prominent in the work, for soldiers are not forced to activity so much by the threats of their immediate superiors as by the influence of men of higher rank. For a soldier seeing his officer the first to put his hand to the task not only realizes the need of haste too but also is ashamed not to work, and afraid to disobey orders; and the rank and file no longer feel that they are being treated as slaves under orders but are moved as though urged by one on the same footing as themselves.

[link to original Greek text] (3) [Siege Engines]

3 Of the many and various siege engines the general will make use according as he has opportunity. It is not my part to say that he must use battering rams or 'city-destroyers' or the sambuca,​17 or wheeled towers or covered sheds or catapults; all this depends upon the luck, the wealth, and the power of the combatants, and upon the skill of the workmen who accompany the army for the purpose  p511 of building engines. 4 The task of a general's peculiar skill, if he wishes to employ engines, is to use them at some one locality — for he would not have a sufficient supply of engines to place them in a circle completely about the wall unless the city were very small, — and, dividing his army into many parts, he should [station his engines at certain points and should] command his men to bring forward their ladders against the other parts of the wall, since in this manner the besieged are rendered helpless. 5 For if the besieged disregard the other parts of the wall and only make a defence against the attacks of the engines, all the besiegers who attack with ladders will easily climb over the wall without opposition, but if the defenders divide their forces and send aid to each part as the battle grows more violent through the attack of these engines, those who are left and who do not venture to fight with them will be unable to repel the advancing menace. 6 On this account, just as a good wrestler, the general must make feints and threats at many points, worrying and deceiving his opponents, here and there, at many places, striving, by securing a firm hold upon one part, to overturn the whole structure of the city.

 p513  [link to original Greek text] (4) [On ending Sieges by vigorous Action]

7 If a general desire quickly to capture a fort or city or camp and his force grow weary, while he wishes not to spare one hour from attacking the defences, he should split his army into divisions, as many as he considers sufficient, according to the number of his men and the extent of the besieged city, and then he should attack immediately at nightfall with the first division, ordering the second to remain near in readiness, but the third and fourth and fifth, if there chance to be a fifth, he should order to sleep. 8 Then when the first division has attacked for some time, he should recall it and send it to its quarters to sleep, but he should give the signal to the second division to march out from the camp; at this point the commander of the third division should arouse and arm his troops. 9 After the second division has fought as long a time as the first, he will lead out his third division and order the second to rest; after this the catapults, then in order the fifth, while the soldiers in turn rest from fighting. 10 Thus, at daybreak, those who attacked first at night should again attack first at dawn, remaining at the front two hours, if there are six divisions, but a little longer if five; three hours if four divisions, and four  p515 hours if three divisions; on their return they should receive their rations in order, the first division, then the second, and so on to the last, like the revolution of a wheel. 11 With this plan, there are two results: unceasing attacks by night and day, while the attackers, taking their turns at rest, will fight freshly and vigorously. 12 But no one should believe that the besieged, even if very numerous, could use this same stratagem, for in danger no one would wish to enjoy sleep even if it were permitted, since from fear of peril, during the time at which one is resting, he lies sleepless, as though the city were on the point of capture. The besieged, moreover, even if their assailants are few, defend themselves with all their strength, and everything within the walls of the city is in a state of excitement, in even greater terror of the future, as though if one minute detail were overlooked, they would all be lost. 13 On this account there is every reason why men wearied, without an hour's rest, tired by guard-duty and labour, and fearful for the future, should defend themselves more weakly, or should send out messengers to discuss the surrender of the city.

 p517  [link to original Greek text] (5) [How the General should rest]

14 "But has the general himself, then," some one may perhaps say, "been made of adamant or iron to have remained alone without sleep throughout all these deeds?" Certainly not; but during the time that he sleeps — and this must be little and cut short — he should hand over the command of the army to one of his most trusted and courageous officers, who is also second only to himself in military rank.

[link to original Greek text] (6) [Parts of a City seemingly most impregnable are often easy to capture]

15 Sometimes those parts of a city that seem precipitous and are fortified by the sheer rocky cliffs, offer the besiegers greater chances for victory than do fortresses erected by human hands, for those places whose fortification relies upon natural strength are wont to be less carefully watched and guarded by soldiers. 16 Then the wise general considers what he must do, and encouraging a few of his bravest soldiers with promise of reward, men who are best  p519 able to climb up by using either the natural unevenness of the ground or else ladders, he accomplishes his attempt; for descending stealthily within the walls they break down a postern or open a gate.

[link to original Greek text] (7) [The Advantage of Trumpets]

17 Some such device as this would be of great assistance — if those who have succeeded in mounting the walls draw up trumpets after them. For a hostile trumpet heard at night from the walls brings great terror to the besieged, as if they had already been overcome by force, so that abandoning the gates and fortifications they flee. The result is that breaking down the gates and meeting the walls by ladders is easily accomplished by soldiers on the outside since no one of the enemy resists any longer. Thus in some such way it is possible that one trumpeter, even without arms, can capture a city.

[link to original Greek text] (8) [Conduct of a General after the Capture of a City]

18 If the general capture by force some city, flourishing in power and in the number of its citizens, and if he fear or suspect that the inhabitants advancing  p521 in companies and crowds may defend themselves against the invaders, or that seizing the heights and the citadel of the town they may advance from there and cause great loss to their opponents, he should command his own soldiers not to slay unarmed men of the enemy. 19 For so long as every man expects to be killed after capture, he wishes first to do some deed of bravery, and even though he suffer, yet to accomplish something, and many inhabitants of towns have driven out enemies even when introduced into the town, or, failing in this, have crowded into the fortified citadel from which they have caused great labour and loss to their adversaries, who must enter into a second . . . and longer siege, one that is sometimes more distressing and attended by great hardships. 20 But if the above-mentioned command should be published, quickly all the inhabitants, or, needless to say, at least the majority, would throw down their arms. For every one who through anger wishes to defend himself, will be compelled to lay down his arms for fear that his neighbour may not be of the same mind, so that even if all should wish to keep their weapons, on account of this suspicion of one another, each one fearing that he alone may be taken with arms on his person,  p523 hastens to give up his weapons. For a sudden emergency does not give time for the common opinion to become known. And those who are ready to protect their own lives so long as no hope of safety has been announced, strive to avert the imminent danger, if not as they wish, then as they must, but when they perceive a small hope of safety, they become suppliants instead of enemies. 21 Thus this proclamation compels even those who wish to keep their arms to throw them down. The death of soldiers in battle admits of easy consolation, for it seems to have been the price of victory, but in victory and the occupation of cities it is a matter of sorrow to the conquerors, as an evidence of thoughtlessness rather than bravery. 22 If, however, the general is revengeful toward the conquered, he should not think that no harm is done them if his men do not slay on the spot all whom they meet, since at his leisure he will be able to plan in perfect safety his uncontested vengeance and the fate that the conquered must undergo.

 p525  [link to original Greek text] (9) [Necessity of sending Women and Children into a City
to capture it by Famine]

23 If the general should despair of sacking a city by force and should settle down to a prolonged siege, believing that he will capture the city if he has pressed it hard by famine, he should take prisoners whatever persons are still in the country. Of these, to the men in the prime of life he should assign work on the defences such as seems best to him, but the women and children and feeble men and old people he should send of his own accord into the city. These will be useless in action but will consume more quickly the supplies of the besieged and will serve the purpose of enemies rather than friends.

[link to original Greek text] (10) [Conduct of the General after Victory]

24 If the war should chance to turn out in everything according to the general's desire, so as to put a complete end to the enemy's activity, he should not be overweening in his good fortune, but gracious; he should not show violent stupidity but kindly goodwill;  p527 for the former excites envy, the latter causes emulation. 25 Now envy is a pain of mind that success­ful men cause their neighbours, but emulation is imitation of the good qualities of others; such is the difference between them that envy is the desire that another may not have good fortune, but emulation is the desire to equal the possessions of another. 26 A good man, then, will be not only a brave defender of his fatherland and a competent leader of an army but also for the permanent protection of his own reputation will be a sagacious strategist.

The Loeb Editor's Note:

17 An arrangement for lowering a bridge from a movable tower to the walls of a city. Its name was derived from its similarity to the triangular four-stringed musical instrument.

Thayer's Note: For details, see the article Sambuca in Smith's Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities.

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Page updated: 27 Jul 13